The issue in question is whether the individual mandate and penalties for not purchasing health insurance in the statist health care legislation commonly known as ObamaCare should rightly be considered taxes, or if they are something else.
In a report dated Friday that appeared in the paper's print edition at Page A14 on Sunday, Robert Pear at the New York Times noted that in legal proceedings, in response to litigation brought by state attorneys general, the administration is now characterizing the mandate and penalties as taxes. Note the subtle water-down that occurred between the web page's title bar and the published article's headline:
When Congress required most Americans to obtain health insurance or pay a penalty, Democrats denied that they were creating a new tax. But in court, the Obama administration and its allies now defend the requirement as an exercise of the government’s “power to lay and collect taxes.”
And that power, they say, is even more sweeping than the federal power to regulate interstate commerce.
Administration officials say the tax argument is a linchpin of their legal case in defense of the health care overhaul and its individual mandate, now being challenged in court by more than 20 states and several private organizations.
Under the legislation signed by President Obama in March, most Americans will have to maintain “minimum essential coverage” starting in 2014. Many people will be eligible for federal subsidies to help them pay premiums.
In a brief defending the law, the Justice Department says the requirement for people to carry insurance or pay the penalty is “a valid exercise” of Congress’s power to impose taxes.
Congress can use its taxing power “even for purposes that would exceed its powers under other provisions” of the Constitution, the department said. For more than a century, it added, the Supreme Court has held that Congress can tax activities that it could not reach by using its power to regulate commerce.
While Congress was working on the health care legislation, Mr. Obama refused to accept the argument that a mandate to buy insurance, enforced by financial penalties, was equivalent to a tax.
“For us to say that you’ve got to take a responsibility to get health insurance is absolutely not a tax increase,” the president said last September, in a spirited exchange with George Stephanopoulos on the ABC News program “This Week.”
When Mr. Stephanopoulos said the penalty appeared to fit the dictionary definition of a tax, Mr. Obama replied, “I absolutely reject that notion.”
Now that the legislation has passed, Team Obama has clearly changed its tune. What a surprise (not).
As a refresher, what follows is the excerpt from the Obama-Stephanopoulos "spirited exchange" to which Pear referred that I posted last year (at NewsBusters; at BizzyBlog). In his annual exercise in legitimate journalism (the one that preceded it was when he moderated an April 2008 Democratic presidential debate and gave then-candidate Obama grief about his relationship with Jeremiah Wright), Stephanopoulos maneuvers an arrogant President into a de facto assertion that Barack Obama's take on a word's meaning is more important than the one found in the dictionary:
STEPHANOPOULOS: ...during the campaign. Under this mandate, the government is forcing people to spend money, fining you if you don't. How is that not a tax?
.... OBAMA: No. That's not true, George. The -- for us to say that you've got to take a responsibility to get health insurance is absolutely not a tax increase. What it's saying is, is that we're not going to have other people carrying your burdens for you anymore than the fact that right now everybody in America, just about, has to get auto insurance. Nobody considers that a tax increase.
People say to themselves, that is a fair way to make sure that if you hit my car, that I'm not covering all the costs.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But it may be fair, it may be good public policy...
OBAMA: No, but -- but, George, you -- you can't just make up that language and decide that that's called a tax increase. Any...
.... STEPHANOPOULOS: I -- I don't think I'm making it up. Merriam Webster's Dictionary: Tax -- "a charge, usually of money, imposed by authority on persons or property for public purposes."
OBAMA: George, the fact that you looked up Merriam's Dictionary, the definition of tax increase, indicates to me that you're stretching a little bit right now. Otherwise, you wouldn't have gone to the dictionary to check on the definition. I mean what...
.... STEPHANOPOULOS: I wanted to check for myself. But your critics say it is a tax increase.
OBAMA: My critics say everything is a tax increase. My critics say that I'm taking over every sector of the economy. You know that.
Look, we can have a legitimate debate about whether or not we're going to have an individual mandate or not, but...
STEPHANOPOULOS: But you reject that it's a tax increase?
OBAMA: I absolutely reject that notion.
At time, I reacted by writing: "If you don't think we have a problem of Orwellian proportions with Barack Obama, I'd suggest you re-read the excerpt. He thinks he's above the dictionary, that words mean only what he says they mean."
It turns out that I understated the extent of the Orwellian problem. Not only does Team Obama want words only to mean what they say they mean, they want to be able to change the meaning of words at will to suit their purposes.
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.